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Syria's Nusra seizes tanks, APCs from Assad's army

Fighters from al-Nusra Front seize 35 tanks and 20 armoured personnel carriers 'stuffed with ammunition' after taking two Syrian army bases
Fighters from Syria's al-Nusra Front drive a tank they seized from forces loyal president Bashar al-Assad on 19 December, 2014 in the southern countryside of Syria's northern city of Aleppo (AFP)

Syrian fighters belonging to al-Nusra Front seized dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers from the army when they took two government bases this week, a monitor said on Friday.

Al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, captured the Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh military posts in the northwestern province of Idlib on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based group, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, had said in an earlier report that nearly 200 combatants on both sides were killed in a 24-hour battle for the bases.

Al-Nusra Front fighters, backed by allied Islamist insurgents, captured at least 120 soldiers, the Observatory said at the time.

On Friday, it reported that the fighters also seized 35 tanks and 20 armoured personnel carriers "stuffed with ammunition".

In August, al-Nusra Front captured 45 UN peacekeepers stationed in the Syrian Golan Heights, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

The move has sparked fears in Israel that its border with Syria – which has been relatively quiet for over years - might flare up.

The peacekeepers were released on 11 September, but questions remain about the role and efficiency of the UN mission.

The UN Security Council on Thursday renewed the mandate of the mission, which monitors a 1974 cease-fire between Syria and Israel, until July 2015.

The unanimously adopted resolution also urges Assad and opposition forces in Syria to stop fighting in the UN mission's area of operation.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, known by the initials UNDOF, has 930 troops from Fiji, India, Nepal, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Israel occupied approximately two thirds of the Heights during the initial fighting, and then annexed it in 1981 -- a move never recognized by international community.

Six billion dollars needed for refugees

Meanwhile, the UNICEF said Thursday it needs more than $900 million to help children affected by Syria's civil war next year and appealed to donors for support.

"The Syria crisis represents the biggest threat to children of recent times," UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Maria Calivis, said ahead of the launch of a major UN appeal for Syrian refugees in Berlin later Thursday.

"By the end of 2015, the lives of over 8.6 million children across the region will have been torn apart by violence and forced displacement," she said.

Calivis said the agency's plans for next year include doubling both the number of Syrian children with access to safe water and sanitation, and the number with access to education.

The UN children's agency will continue vaccination campaigns against polio, she said, and deliver care including cash grants and winter clothing to the families of some 850,000 children affected by the conflict.

"These commitments -- at $903 million (732 million euros) -- represent the bare minimum," she said, calling on supporters "to help us make these commitments a reality".

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday that there were 12 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid.

"We need $6 billion to provide humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees," Steinmeier said,

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonia Guterres said that Turkey had already spent $4.3 billion in humanitarian aid on Syrians so far, adding that "the load imposed by refuges should be fairly shared."

He also said that neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon "need financial and structural aid to strengthen infrastructure."

Syria's conflict, which evolved from mass pro-democracy demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad's rule to a civil war that has left more than 200,000 dead, has forced more than half the population to flee their homes.

The majority of fatalities are reportedly of civilians, primarily killed by pro-Assad forces, although other groups are also implicated.

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